NFL Scouting Combine

Reactions to Top Skill-Position Player's Performances at the 2014 Combine

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Reactions to Top Skill-Position Player's Performances at the 2014 Combine

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    With several days of drills done at the NFL Scouting Combine, it’s time to take stock of what some scouts and analysts are saying about some of the top prospects and how they performed.

    That counts for off the field as well as on it, as several of them aren’t even fully participating, instead waiting for their pro days to work in a more familiar environment.

    And for some, the off-field issues loom larger than the on-field ones.

    There were disappointing performances, as well as amazing ones, and there were injuries.

    Of course, there are many reactions to each of those performances.

    Let's take a look at some of the top offensive players and what people thought about their weekend.

     

    **All quotes not directly attributed were acquired firsthand while at the 2014 NFL combine**

Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M

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    While Johnny Manziel declined to throw at the combine, he did other drills, including a quick 40-yard dash. Manziel’s 4.68 was the fourth fastest time run by a quarterback on Sunday and underlines the threat he poses with his mobility.

    All of which is pretty impressive, since Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported this week that Manziel had essentially ignored training for the combine in place of working on his mechanics and other issues.

    In other words: worrying about football rather than drills.

    What Manziel couldn’t train for was to improve his height.

    Manziel had said he would be 6’1” but topped just 5’11” while he weighed in at 207 pounds.

    Certainly disappointing, but it's not quite the end of the world.

    Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com reported on Twitter that over the course of three years at Texas A&M, Manziel had added 35 pounds.

    With concerns about durability and size, that he could train up and add the weight is encouraging and will catch the attention of some teams and might help reduce that concern.

    What will probably catch more of their attention, though, is what Jenna Laine of 1040/1080 The Team reported. Laine says she spoke to one scout who said Manziel has been crushing his team interviews.

    With the biggest question mark being his maturity (or perceived lack thereof), this was an area Manziel had to be on point for.

    When I saw him at the podium this weekend, he definitely was working hard to lay the groundwork to change the perception of his maturity and work ethic:

    "I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line. For me it’s nothing, it won’t be a hard thing to kick or anything really a hard deal to not do. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team." 

    Manziel will need to prove that on the field, but clearly both in and outside of the interview room, he’s begun to try and show he’s ready to put “Johnny Football” behind him.

     

     **All quotes acquired firsthand while at the 2014 NFL combine**

Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville

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    Like Manziel, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater didn’t throw at the combine.

    Does that hurt him? That's up for debate. Jenna Laine of 1040/1080 The Team reported that at least one scout isn’t sold on Bridgewater as the top quarterback in the draft, but whether or not that would have changed had he thrown, is up for healthy debate.

    We do know some coaches would rather a prospect throw at the combine, as Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll relayed to us at his press conference on Thursday.

    "Here's a little different. It's a little more random. They don't have control of the route running and the depths and things and guys are trying to do the best they can at receiver. It does call for a guy to demonstrate flexibility and an ability to adapt. It's a little bit different. It's just combine workouts; it's not football. And controlled workouts are not football. That's just what it is. It's part of the process and our guys learn how to evaluate those in conjunction with the season's work and the body of work the guys has shown."

    NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks also felt as though Bridgewater’s choice to not only bypass the passing drills but many other key ones (including the 40-yard dash and 60-yard shuttle) will continue to let teams question his desire and competitiveness.

    He still has his pro day to throw, along with tape. However, while you can recover from a poor combine performance at your pro day, if you mess up your pro day, you don't get another chance.

    A team won't take him off the board for not throwing at the combine or having  a poor pro day, but if they are still debating their top quarterback, both of those things will factor in and could tilt the field in another prospect's favor.

    That could play right into the Jacksonville Jaguars’ hands. The Jaguars met with ten quarterbacks Friday night, according to Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.

    There has been some chatter here in Indy that Jacksonville really likes Bridgewater, so while Manziel and UCF’s Blake Bortles heat up and gain traction, the Jaguars might be all too happy to see Bridgewater fall and solve their quarterback problems.

    The usual combine and draft smoke? Perhaps. But worth keeping in mind.

    **All quotes acquired firsthand while at the 2014 NFL combine**

Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M

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    There were questions about the speed of Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, but those have at least partially been put to rest as of Sunday.

    Evans’ 4.53 40 time wasn’t the fastest (wasn’t close, actually) but it showed more than enough speed to lock him in as a likely first-round selection.

    As NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks points out, that speed, along with his 37-inch vertical, is more impressive when you consider his 6’4”, 231-pound frame. On top of that, Brooks says that Evans showed more fluidity and body control than expected during his route running and exceptional hands in receiving drills.

    According to NFL.com’s Mike Huguenin, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock feels that Evans is "a top-15 pick in today's NFL" and while he feels Evans need to improve his route running, thinks he could be a receiver along the lines of Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson.

    Ultimately, teams need to look at the tape and make sure that 4.53 is translated to the field. How fast does he play, really?

    However, the tape I have seen is very good. So while Clemson’s Sammy Watkins ran faster and looked fantastic in most of the drills, Evans has closed the gap a little and possibly leapfrogged USC receiver Marqise Lee.

     

Blake Bortles, Quarterback, UCF

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    With Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater declining to throw at the NFL combine, UCF’s Blake Bortles was in a perfect position to make his case to become the No. 1 overall quarterback in the class. 

    He wants to be the top pick in the draft and he took his shot on Sunday, wowing the media and teams.

    USA Today’s Jim Corbett relayed this from former NFL quarterback and current SIRIUS NFL radio host Jim Miller:

    Bortles was by far the best quarterback…(he) is the real deal.

    Miller wasn’t alone in his assessment.

    @Andrew_Garda - Bortles & Cornell's J. Mathews were the two best quarterbacks throwing the ball today in my opinion.

    — Russell Lande (@RUSSLANDE) February 23, 2014

    The Orlando Sentinel’s Paul Tenorio and Iliana Limon Romero also reported high praise from Charles Davis (who made a Ben Roethlisberger comparison), Brian Billick ("I don't see any negatives.") and Mike Mayock ("I think he's a franchise quarterback.").

    Earlier last week, Tenorio had reported that many NFL coaches and officials supported and praised Bortles’ choice.

    Vikings GM Rick Spielman told Tenorio that the drills give the teams a chance to break down a player from a technical standpoint and see what needed to be fixed, if anything.

    Spielman also thought it was good for the players to compete. "It's what you put the emphasis on,” he told Tenorio, “I put the emphasis on, [if] the guy's got a chance to compete, go out there and compete."

    Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell echoed that.

    "I think it shows a level of competitiveness if someone wants to go out there and show the whole world. This is the biggest stage you're going to have to workout, on national TV, on NFL Network, and you've got every NFL executive here, so why not do it here and save yourself a bunch of private workouts."

    Bortles had a very good day on Sunday and caught the attention of NFL teams.

    While the combine workouts should never overrule tape, teams who were on the fence about which of the “big three” quarterbacks to tape might move the needle a little towards Bortles.

    Bortles had the stage to himself and delivered quite the solo.

Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Tackle, Alabama

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    While it’s nice to talk about all the receivers, quarterbacks and running backs, without an offensive line, none of them would do anything.

    So it’s a bit disappointing to see one of the top offensive tackles have the kind of weekend Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio did.

    First, he had a poor workout, one which made scouts cringe. According to Draftinsider.net’s Tony Pauline, one scout said Kouandjio could “say goodbye to round one” after what was described as a sluggish and slow workout.

     

    Back from combine workout.  Bills scout commented earlier, "Cyrus Kouandjio say goodbye to round one"...sluggish, slow & totally unprepared.

    — Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) February 22, 2014

     

    You always take reports like that with a bit of salt, as you have to assume all leaked information is done with a specific agenda, but this time you have to imagine where there is draft smoke, there is fire.

    Especially as it was followed up by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport report that several teams had failed Kouandjio on his physical due to an arthritic knee stemming from poorly done surgery.

     

    Bad news for #Bama OT Cyrus Kouandjio. I’m told several teams have failed him on his physical. Arthritic knee from failed surgery. “Ugly.”

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2014

     

    At this point it definitely appears as if Kouandjio will not only drop out of the first round, but potentially to the middle of the third, or worse.

Dri Archer, Running Back, Kent State

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    While Kent State running back Dri Archer’s 40-yard dash time of 4.26 fell just short of Chris Johnson’s record time of 4.24, there’s no denying Archer is really fast.

    However, as Branson Wright of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Sunday, speed may not be enough to be successful.

    Wright relayed a point NFL Network’s Mike Mayock made after the run.

    He ran fast, almost as fast as Chris Johnson," Mayock said. "He helped himself. The fact that he can return helps him. Whenever you get those guys that 170-plus pounds, the question is how do you use them? Where do you line them up? That’s where the value situation is.

    As much as the speed will open up some opportunity for teams, there just may not be a role for him. Or at least not a clear one.

    It most reminds me of Kansas City Chiefs running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who ran a nice 4.58 and showed he could be fast, and whose film showed some elusiveness, but whose 5’8”, 170-pound frame limited what he could do for the Chiefs.

    I love Archer, but like most other media (and some teams I spoke with) I'm not sure where you put him on the field.

    That said, his speed will intrigue teams, even if his frame worries them.

Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson

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    Like Dri Archer, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins failed to break Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record. 

    Still, his 4.43 was plenty fast and, along with his outstanding performance in the drills, likely locked up his position as the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft class.

    NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks said that Watkins was not only fast, he showed “exceptional quickness in change-of-direction drills” as well as ”strong hands and excellent ball skills while snatching live throws in the positional workouts.”

    Brooks also said that Watkins’ routes were more polished than he expected and that the Clemson wide receiver should be the first receiver off the board in May.

    It seems as though a lot of buzz in Indianapolis is connected to Watkins and the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 overall. According to Jeff Schudel at The Morning Journal, Watkins has already met with the team both formally and informally and Watkins feels that pairing him with Josh Gordon would be a nightmare for other teams.

    It certainly would give some defensive coordinators a few sleepless nights.

Carlos Hyde, Running Back, Ohio State

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    Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde (who is my No. 2 running back in this class) was hoping to put on a show in Indianapolis, but ended up pulling a hamstring instead.

    As reported by Cleveland.com’s Tom Reed, Hyde grabbed his left hamstring as he crossed the finish line during his 40-yard dash.

    Hyde was not available for comment, but Reed relayed that NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock wasn’t too worried.

    It’s one thing if something happened like (Oklahoma cornerback) Aaron Colvin at the Senior Bowl where you tear an ACL,” Mayock said. “It’s another thing when you pull a calf or a hammy. It’s a temporary setback. Hopefully he will be ready for the Ohio State pro day.

    As Reed reported, the Ohio State Pro Day is March 7, so Hyde has time to allow his hamstring to heal and run then. Alternately, if that is not enough time, Hyde could run a 40 in private workouts.

    Still, in a running back class which is very closely knotted, not being able to perform at the combine could allow another back to leapfrog Hyde during the draft.

    Which, as Hyde is an outstanding running back, will benefit some other team.

    Last year Alabama running back Eddie Lacy fell because of durability concerns and the Green Bay Packers jumped on him. He carried the team for a lot of the season when quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down.

    Hyde could have a similar tale to tell around this time next year.

     

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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